To date, my research has focussed on visual culture in the sixteenth-century Netherlands. My PhD thesis examined more closely innovative approaches to pictorial narration that were pioneered by Netherlandish artists in the 1500s, and sought to shed light on why Netherlandish history painting, as practiced by artists such as Herri met de Bles and Pieter Bruegel, developed with a character that is often so strikingly at odds with other European traditions, but especially the Italian tradition of the ‘historia’.
Underlining this examination is an interest in early modern art theory, including those later elaborated by Karel van Mander (1548 to 1606), who provided a retroactive theoretical examination of sixteenth-century Netherlandish art as part of his Het Schilder-boeck, first published in 1604. I also sought to position Netherlandish visual traditions and their wilful propagation by artists including Bruegel in the context of debates about literary and artistic vernaculars, and examined the extent to which the development of a “Netherlandish visual vernacular” can be related to contemporary endeavours to establish and assert Netherlandish national identity at a time when this was being increasingly threated from without by the Spanish Habsburgs.
Latterly, I have been working increasingly on the links between paintings, especially Bruegel’s, and contemporary rhetorical theories and manuals, especially the notion of rhetorical abundance, or ‘copia,’ as championed at this time by influential writers such as Erasmus. Coupled with this, I am also exploring the notion of the paradox and the role of seemingly paradoxical, or absurd, imagery and content in sixteenth-century religious art.